Intel, the beleaguered CPU designer, is moving onto its third CEO in three years. Today Anandtech reported the departure of CEO Bob Swan and the hiring of Pat Gelsinger as his replacement.
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Gelsinger comes from VMware, where he worked as CEO for nine years. But the bulk of his nearly 40 years in tech has been at at Intel—30 years to be exact—and he’s worked on some of the most crucial standards found in computers, including USB and wifi. He was also, notably, the architect of the famous 80486 microprocessor, which was one of the first really excellent x86 chips and the first to incorporate more than a million transistors.
That’s a radically different background from departing CEO Swan, who was Intel’s chief finance officer before he took over as interim CEO in 2018 (he officially became CEO in 2019). Swan was named CEO after former CEO Brian Krzanich was forced to resign due to an “inappropriate” relationship with an employee. At the time, Intel was facing intense scrutiny over the devastating Spectre and Meltdown flaws in its CPUs.
Swan’s nearly three years as CEO didn’t exactly improve Intel’s fortunes. While the design flaws that allowed Spectre and Meltdown to propagate have largely been addressed in CPUs designed since, Intel has had other problems. The company struggled to move from the 14nm node it’s used for more than five years and onto the 10nm node promised—or even the 7nm node used by AMD, its primary competitor in the chip space. Even its latest desktop CPUs, announced this year at CES, are a combination of 10nm and 14nm.
This struggle to advance to smaller nodes is just one reason that Apple, one of Intel’s most notable customers, moved away from Intel chips to focus on producing its own Arm-based CPUs last year. And while Intel still holds a near monopoly in the server CPU space, AMD has been rapidly chipping away at its market share in the consumer space.
This is all to say, Gelsinger is inheriting a company in some moderate distress. Intel is too large to necessarily get decimated by a bad CEO, or even a bad business deal. It still holds a number of lucrative patents and, as already noted, is still a giant in the server space (as well as in wireless communications). But the ship is definitely listing a little and Gelsinger will need to do a lot of work to right it.